Even before J. K. Rowling's tremendous success with her Harry Potter series, publishers were frantically searching for fantasy and horror fiction for children and teenagers that they hoped would top the bestseller list. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it does not insure success as a writer. Here are my suggestions:
Tip One: You don’t need to copy current market trends. (Honor bright!)
Teens have varied tastes in fiction. Not every teen or juvenile book needs to feature werewolves, vampires, witches, goblins, etc. Witness the huge success of such realistic teen novels as THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Note that ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction could easily be read and understood by teens as well as adults since the novel is suited to both. Here we have a book which is historical in nature. Teens are as curious about the past as they are about the present and the future.
Books set in the "real" world do have appeal for teenagers. Teens are not necessarily trying to read books that provide a total escape from reality. Even fantasy books need to be believable, providing an element of reality through character development to which readers can relate. In the crossover novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, the real world is seen through the eyes of a teenage boy while his mother experiences it through an alternate reality. The paranormal elements in the novel are believable because the “real” world interacts with them.
Dystopian novels are still popular at the current time. But trends change rapidly. My advice, don't write for the market; write the story you need and want to write. We are all writers. We all have within us an important, wonderful story to share. Get in touch with your inner teen self. Strive for authenticity.
Tip Two: Develop a unique voice.
This is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. This does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But ”voice” has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well. In my YA novel,
STACY’S SONG, the story is written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sense of humor and a unique perspective.
Tip Three: Character identification is significant.
It is important to create a central character that young readers can both sympathize and identify with. Whether writing realistic or fantasy fiction, if the reader can't care about or relate to the main character, then he or she won't believe or accept what follows. A main character needs to be well-rounded, think and feel the way adolescents do.
Tip Four: Know teenagers.
If you are going to write about teens, you need to know them. Do some research. Besides raising two teenagers, I taught English and later Library Science. I taught at all levels: the university, high school, middle school and elementary. But most of my years were in the high school. I am accustomed to the way teenagers think, talk and behave. If you are not a teen yourself, talk to teenagers, read their magazines, watch their favorite TV programs, observe how they behave at malls, amusement parks, movie theaters etc. Listen to them.
Tip Five: Recall your own teenage memories.
Dig deep into your psyche. How did you feel as a teenager? Were you confused about certain things? What made you happy? What troubled you? What are your most vivid memories of those times? Did you keep a diary or journal? If so, reread some of what you wrote.
My YA novel, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, published by Clean Reads in all e-book formats and print, is the story of a girl who has identity issues. She is also faced with peer pressure and conflicting values. Most of us have gone through similar problems as adolescents.
Tip Six: Get input from your own children.
Ask your teenagers to read your writing and critique it. Consider collaborating with your children on the writing of your fiction. I wrote WHERE IS ROBERT?, a YA mystery novel, with help from both of my sons who were teenagers at the time. Both boys contributed to the scenes of high school wrestling, since they both engaged in the sport. I couldn't have written the book without them. My son, Andrew, co-authored THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY published by Five Star/Gale/Cengage. He gave the teenage boy narrator an authentic “voice”.
Tip Seven: Make it dramatic.
Think like a cinematographer. Create vivid scenes. Dramatize your story. Don't just tell your story, show it. I'm certain you've heard that advice before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialogue for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking in a certain distinct way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialogue leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.
Also, settings need to be described so that they seem real. In fact, there's nothing wrong with using real places for background setting. My five published YA’s are all set in
New Jersey, an area very much like the one in which I lived
Tip Eight: Begin with an outline.
Outlines can be rough. They don’t need to be detailed. But you should have some idea about arranging the events of the plot line. This will be something to consult when writing your first draft with your key characters and scenes.
Tip Nine: When you develop your book, look for depth.
Although books for teens are usually shorter than those for adults, that doesn't mean they require less creative thought. Respect your readers; give them quality.
Tip Ten: Provide an element of mystery.
Teens as well as younger children enjoy a mystery. Every good work of fiction should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It's important to set up some sort of a question that can't be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into.
Tip Eleven: Develop key themes in your YA fiction.
Teen novels are generally about coming-of-age, of finding personal identity, making sense of the adult world, relating to it and fitting into it—or not.
My latest YA novel is WITCH WISH. Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees, an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box which the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect but soon comes to regret her wish.
The success of J.K. Rowling’s books gave new hope and inspiration to those of us who write juvenile fiction. No longer could we gripe that children and young adults do not read. If nothing else, the reception the Potter books received proves that there is an audience for fiction among young people. Also, such books if well-written have a strong appeal for adult readers as well—think of THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT or the TWILIGHT series.
Your comments, suggestions and input welcome here!